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Jesus' picture at home no sign of conversion, says Indian court

The case concerned officials denying a low caste certificate to a girl alleging conversion to Christianity
Representative images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and Joseph

Representative images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and Joseph (Photo: UCA News)

Published: October 19, 2023 01:29 PM GMT

The High Court of Maharashtra state in western India has told the government that having a picture of Jesus Christ at home is no proof of conversion to Christianity.

The Bombay High Court was responding to a petition filed by the father of a 17-year-old girl after officials refused her a certificate to show that she belonged to a socially poor Dalit caste.

The officials said the family had converted to Christianity so the girl was illegible for a Dalit caste certificate because Christians are not considered Dalit under the law.

They cited a police report that a picture of Jesus Christ was inside her home. Police reported it was proof of the family’s conversion to Christianity, the court was told. 

But the court refused to accept it, local media reported on Oct.19.

“No sane man will accept or believe that merely because there is a photograph of Jesus Christ in the house would ipso facto mean that a person had converted himself into Christianity,” said the two-judge bench of the court.

The court also ordered the government to issue the certificate to the girl.

The petitioner from Amaravati district complained against officials of the Amravati District Caste Certificate Scrutiny Committee that denied his daughter the certificate that she belonged to the Mahar community, which was designated as a Scheduled Caste (SC).

The people of Scheduled Caste are eligible for educational concessions including reserved seats in higher education institutions and jobs as part of the government's affirmative action.    

A government order in 1950 restricted the benefits of affirmative action to Hindus alone saying only Hindus practiced the caste system. The order was amended twice to include Dalit people from Sikh and Buddhist religions.

However, Christian and Muslim Dalit people were denied these benefits on the grounds that their religions did not practice the caste system.

“There is absolutely no shred of evidence on record or material found by the vigilance cell (of the police) during the inquiry that either the grandfather, father, or the petitioner had undergone Baptism,” said the court.

The court accepted the petitioner’s argument that "the picture was gifted by someone and kept in the house,” according to a report in Livelaw, a legal website.

The petitioner also provided government documents issued to her grandfather, father, and other blood relatives that recognized them as members of the 'Mahar' community.

The government, however, failed to produce any baptismal certificate to prove that the girl had converted to Christianity.

"What more proof was required to be considered by the committee who appears to have turned Nelson's eye to this glaring document apart from three validity certificates which have already been granted by it in favor of blood relatives of the petitioner," the high court said in its Oct. 10 order

The petitions from Christian and Muslim groups seeking benefits of affirmative action are pending in the Supreme Court against what they call the government’s “discrimination” based on religion against Dalit people.

Government data shows that 201 million of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to the socially deprived Dalit category. Some 60 percent of India’s 25 million Christians trace their origins to Dalit and tribal communities.

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